Bill Ryerson: Fox’s work with the Population Media Center

During the time Sonny chaired the Population Media Center board, I was serving as Executive Vice President there. I suggested we add Cely Arndt to the board. Thus began a nearly 30-year romance that changed the lives of Sonny and Cely in wonderful ways.

From 2006 until 2013, Sonny served as Population Media Center’s West Coast Representative. In this capacity, in May 2007, Sonny organized the Entertainment-Public Health Summit to bring together entertainment industry leaders and public health professionals for the purpose of creating dialogue and an ongoing mechanism for regular and speedy input by the public health community into entertainment programs on reproductive health and other health concerns.

The Summit was held in Atlanta at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, which was a co-sponsor of the event. The Summit was presented in association with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Writers Guild of America West and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation.

Key presenters at the 2007 Summit included:

  • Albert Bandura, Stanford Psychology Professor and originator of Social Cognitive Theory;
  • William Ryerson, President of Population Media Center;
  • Vicki Beck, Director, Hollywood, Health and Society, Norman Lear Center, University of Southern California;
  • Zoanne Clack, Co-Producer and Writer for ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy;
  • Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop;
  • Cindy Popp and Tracy Melchior from The Bold and the Beautiful TV series;
  • Sonya Lockett, Vice President for Public Affairs of Black Entertainment Television;
  • Diana Cristina Diaz, Director, Corporate and Community Relations, Univision;
  • Michelle Alban, Director, Primary Research, Telemundo;
  • Arvind Singhal, then Professor of Communication Studies and Presidential Research Scholar at Ohio University;
  • Kriss Barker, Vice President for International Programs for Population Media Center;
  • Patric Verrone, President, Writers Guild of America West;
  • Susan Allen, Director of the Rwanda, Zambia HIV Research Group; and
  • John Brooks, Director, HIV Clinical Epidemiology Team at the Centers for Disease Control.

In November 2008, PMC conducted a daylong Climate Change Summit organized by Sonny at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles in partnership with the Writers Guild of America West, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Women in Film and the Environmental Media Association. The Summit gave attention to the health and security consequences of climate change. Writers and producers of numerous American television shows attended the Summit.

Key presenters at the 2008 Climate Change Summit included:

  • Patrick Verrone, President, Writers Guild of America;
  • Jane Fleming, President, Women in Film Foundation;
  • Debbie Levin, Executive Director, Environmental Media Association;
  • John Shaffner, President, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences;
  • Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • Dennis McGinn, Vice Admiral, (Ret.) U.S. Navy;
  • David Rambo, Writer/Supervising Producer, CSI;
  • Chris Alexander, Senior V.P. of Corporate Communications, 20th Century Fox Communications;
  • Neal Baer, Executive Producer, Law &Order: SVU;
  • William Ryerson, President, Population Media Center;
  • Steve Schiffman, General Manager, National Geographic Channel; and
  • Professor Edward Maibach, Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University.

Sonny commissioned a one-act play of dialogue by a restaurateur with a friend about the impact of climate-related events on his business in order to illustrate how to include issues like the climate crisis in entertainment storytelling.

Sonny was one of the founders of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which is the largest organization of global broadcasters, with members from nearly 70 countries and over 400 companies. In 2006, thanks to Sonny, PMC participated in the International Emmy World Television Festival (held the weekend before the International Emmy Awards) with presentations on socially responsible broadcasting, in a panel chaired by TV Globo of Brazil. In 2007, PMC co-sponsored and participated in four panel discussions focused on socially responsible broadcasting at that year’s Television Festival.

Sonny introduced PMC to Nely Galan just after she stepped down from running Telemundo. She then connected us to Carlos Portugal, who became director and head writer of PMC’s first TV show, East Los High. The show became one of the most popular and long running programs in the history of the network Hulu.

During the pandemic in mid-2020, Sonny called me to ask, “How are you old people doing?” In fact, there are so many stories of Sonny’s wit, a full book would be needed to tell them all.

Bill Ryerson
President and Founder
Population Media Center